Between 1994 and 2007, Jacky Terrasson made 10 Blue Note albums. They established him as one of the most talented pianists of his generation. Terrasson’s relationship to a piano was like LeBron James’ relationship to a 10-foot-high basket. They both lived above the rim. They could dunk in their sleep.
Since leaving Blue Note, Terrasson has recorded only once until now. He should be ready to make an important record, but Gouache is not one. It is more a sampler of party music than an album statement. Guests come and go. It is also Terrasson’s most extended flirtation with pop culture.
The program includes songs by John Lennon, Amy Winehouse and Justin Bieber. Few jazz fans have ever Googled Justin Bieber. But if you want to hear his “Baby” in the original, the YouTube video comes right up. “Baby” is as vacuous a ditty as you’ve ever sat still for. Terrasson speeds it to a blur on acoustic piano and hammers it on Fender Rhodes. Harmless fun. Darker implications are not Terrasson’s specialty, but the prancing groove of Winehouse’s “Rehab” is interrupted by ominous crashes. Cécile McLorin Salvant sings Lennon’s “Oh My Love” and Erik Satie’s “Je te veux” in a wistful voice disconnected in mood from the rest of the album. “Mother” is mostly a repetitive block-chord cycle whose most meaningful content is provided by trumpet player Stephane Belmondo.
The trio pieces are best. Burniss Travis and Justin Faulkner are the bassist and drummer. “Happiness” is in Terrasson’s sweet spot, a depiction of ecstasy through unleashed energy and spilling ideas. “Valse Hot” is an intriguing free approximation of Sonny Rollins’ melody.
Ornate extraneous decoration is flung all around “C’est si bon,” that mild, sweet little song. Its wild headlong bouncing ride is quintessential Terrasson: entertaining, extravagant, skillful, more from the head than the heart.